‘Abstruse’ (2019) Movie Review: A Noir of Murder, Corruption and Conspiracy

Award-winning filmmaker Harley Wallen (read our interview here) has been on a roll in the indie scene this past year. Working on both sides of the camera, the writer/producer/director/actor recently brought us horror in Agramon’s Gate (read our review here) and thrills in Eternal Code (read our review here), both released in 2019. Wallen has released a third feature, Abstruse, before the year ends amping up the suspense with murder, conspiracy, corruption and an ultimate standoff between good and evil.

Planning to persuade bartenders Mindy (Jessika Johnson: Agramon’s Gate) and Amanda (Kaiti Wallen: Eternal Code) to film an amateur porno, Justin (Kris Reilly: Agramon’s Gate), the son of a wealthy senator, and his friend Daniel (Dennis Marin: Betrayed) lure the girls back to Justin’s apartment. When things begin to turn hot and heavy, the night takes a much darker turn when Mindy dies by the hands of the senator’s son.

Kris Reilly as Justin Stevens, Kaiti Wallen as Amanda London, Dennis Marin as Daniel and Jessika Johnson as Mindy

Shaken by the death of her friend, Amanda runs straight to the local authorities. However, when the police knock on Justin’s door to investigate, we’re met with an odd American Psycho-esque twist when nothing is found to collaborate Amanda’s story… not even the slightest sign of late night partying or a domestic disturbance. Did Amanda merely hallucinated the horrifying events? Of course not! She knows what she saw and presses the issue. Her friend is missing and someone has to take the fall. And the one who may go under is our victim in distress as evidence begins to surface turning around the finger of blame.

Jessika Johnson as Mindy

Smelling a cover up, Amanda’s ex-con father Max (Tom Sizemore: Saving Private Ryan) launches his own brand of investigation. Unfortunately, corruption runs deep and insanity runs deeper as Justin becomes discontent hiding behind his father Senator Stevens (Dennis Haskins: Saved by the Bell TV series). Can Max get to the bottom of this and save his daughter? Or will money, power and insanity prevail?

Tom Sizemore as Max London and Harley Wallen as Detective Caldwell

Backed by solid performances by the entire cast lineup, Abstruse delivers its own twist of noir films keeping you guessing on alliances as corruption and conspiracy unravels. Holding back nothing, Sizemore gives the perfect hard-ass touch to a man hell-bent on protecting his daughter by any means necessary. However, he isn’t the only one out to shield his kid from the ensuing mess of travesty.

Known to many for years as Principal Belding in Saved by the Bell, Haskins takes on a much different disciplinary role attempting to take control of Justin’s screwup… mostly for selfish reasons. Perfectly portraying a senator who is more concerned with potential public backlash than his son’s wrong doings, Haskins brings a level of immorality to the plot as his character’s narcissism blinds him from truly seeing his son.

Dennis Haskins as Senator Stevens

Standing out among such powerful cast performances and stealing the screen in unexpected ways is Reilly as he portrays a spoiled playboy not unlike Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Fueled by brazen arrogance, Justin transforms into an remorseless psychopath who believes himself above the law and any moral standard or obligations. However, as captivating as Reilly’s portrayal of this sadist may be, a more gradual character arc highlighting the character’s descent into insanity could have thickened the plot bringing the film to another level.

Kris Reilly as Justin Stevens and Jesi Jensen as Jess

Missed opportunity with the villain’s character arc aside, Abstruse takes you on a wild roller coaster ride delivering twists, turns and surprises along the way. Driven by a strong cast performance and a suspenseful plot, Wallen’s latest feature builds tension you can cut with a knife as the story reaches a deadly climax and an unforeseeable end. Earning 25 awards and 13 nominations, this crime thriller forms its own indie style of noir ending the year for Wallen on a high note. Abstruse is now available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.

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